The LSU men’s basketball team returns to action Tuesday night at Houston trying to shake a disturbing trend.
The Tigers have lost three times in six games - all after building big leads.
LSU allowed Coastal Carolina to rally from nine down in a 71-63 setback, gave away a 14-point cushion in an 88-82 defeat by Northwestern, and couldn’t hold on to a 12-point lead in a 79-75 overtime loss to South Alabama, which trailed by 11 with eight minutes to play.
Since returning to the practice floor after a brief Thanksgiving Day break, coach Trent Johnson said the Tigers (3-3) have put a premium on being mentally tough.
“We’ve got to do a better job of playing with fatigue, a better job of playing with leads,” Johnson said. “There are times when you’ve really got to concentrate to set a good screen. There are times when you’ve got to really concentrate and block out.”
Johnson said LSU will need 40 good minutes to beat Houston at Hofheinz Pavilion.
The Tigers handled the Cougars at home last year, shooting 50 percent from the field in a 73-57 win. But this year, Houston has put together a solid early season résumé.
The Cougars (3-2) beat Arkansas on Nov. 18 to cap a 3-0 start. They have since lost to Oakland and TCU by three combined points.
In the TCU game, J.R. Cadot scored on a desperation, over-the-shoulder putback as time expired.
“Everybody wants to talk about last year,” Johnson said. “But this is a completely different team. This is a team that has lost two games basically by two baskets.”
Former Texas Tech coach James Dickey went 12-18 last year after inheriting a Houston team that reached the NCAA tournament the season before. Providence transfer Joseph Young and true freshman TaShawn Thomas are among the team’s eight newcomers.
Sophomore Alandise Harris leads Houston in scoring at 17.8 points, followed by Kirk Van Slyke at 15.0 and Young at 11.6.
Johnson said he will go with the same lineup Saturday he has used since the first game: junior Justin Hamilton and senior Storm Warren down low, sophomores Ralston Turner and Andre Stringer on the wings, and freshman Anthony Hickey at point guard.
One of LSU’s strengths has been its offensive balance.
Hickey leads LSU at 13.2 points per game, but three other starters - Stringer at 11.8 points, Hamilton at 11.2 and Turner at 11.0 - also average in double figures.
Freshman forward Johnny O’Bryant III averages 9.7 points off the bench.
“We haven’t changed our focus from the things we’ve done since the first day of practice,” Johnson said. “It’s going to come down to our ability to really concentrate mentally and go out there and get it done on a consistent basis.”